The mood of the Eco-Farm Conference’s 1,000 attendees turned somber this week when the announcement was made from the pulpit, on Friday morning, that the Obama Administration had decided to deregulate Monsanto’s genetically-modified (GM) alfalfa.
“This is a sad day for the future of sustainable agriculture”, pioneering organic farmer Larry Jacobs, President of Jacobs Farm-Del Cabo, summarized in the press release published by the Ecological Farming Association that organizes the annual conference in Pacific Grove, California.
Alfalfa is the fourth most important crop grown on American soil behind corn, soybeans and wheat. According to sustainable food systems advocate and author Michael Pollan, “93 percent of alfalfa hay is grown without any herbicide at all”, which means that the GM alfalfa seed developed by Monsanto in order to resist its Roundup herbicide “is a bad solution to a problem that doesn’t exist”.
It is a bad solution because alfalfa pollen is exceptionally volatile, traveling easily for miles courtesy of insects and breezes. In other words, GM alfalfa is a prime candidate for the harmful transgenic contamination of conventional crops through cross-pollination—a phenomenon that biologists call “gene flow”. The Supreme Court accepted that much in a ruling given last June in the case brought by the Center for Food Safety and other plaintiffs against the USDA after a premature deregulation of GM alfalfa.
The disastrous chain of events that could result from the planting of GM alfalfa is better understood when one realizes that alfalfa hay is a staple diet of dairy and beef cattle. More to the point, organic farmers rely on organic alfalfa to feed their animals. In the absence of GMO labeling in the United-States, the organic label is the only non-GMO guarantee offered to consumers. In fact, 83% of organic consumers say they purchase organic food specifically to avoid GMO, according to the Stonyfield Farm Case Study (2009). Contamination of alfalfa fields by GMO signals the end of organic crops, and consequently jeopardizes the organic practices and label of organic farms, putting their very survival at risk.
Opponents to GM alfalfa are bracing for a legal fight.
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